The Race-Buckhead Border Part 2

If you missed my first installment of The Buckhead Border you can find it here.  This is the second of three blogs surrounding the challenge of a lifetime. 


The first wave of swimmers had already started making their way across the murky Ohio river.  We watched as they swam through the last two pillars of the Big Four Bridge. 

"They are going the wrong way!"  Someone yelled.   There was confusion among everyone else that was in the stands. 

"Uh, don't go that way.  You have to go all of the way around the last pillar, then make your way down the shoreline," the official boomed over the megaphone.  He proceeded to line the second wave up and then signaled for them to jump in the water.  


It seemed like only seconds before they called the people with red swim caps to come to the dock.  It was all a bit surreal until that happened.  The official instructed a volunteer to count out 35 red caps.  One, two, three...part of me wished I was in the first group so I could get it over with and part of me wasn't ready to go just yet.  I realized I had to go to the bathroom again.  Crap.  "Thirty five", the volunteer waved me through with the first group.  They told us to jump into the water.  The temperature was ideal for swimming.  The color, a cloudy brown.  I didn't have too long to access the water beyond that (or relieve myself) because within a few short moments a whistle was blown and the race was on. 

Legs and arms were all around me.  It was impossible in those first few seconds to swim without hitting someone's foot or arm.  You could hear the soft lapping of the water and a light smack as people tried to break out of the pack.  I was determined to be the first.  Things were already going according to my plan as I was positioned to the far left of the group so that I could separate myself from them easily.  I plunged my head into the water and could not see a thing.  I began to take strokes and propel myself forward.  Slowly and surely the group moved forward.  It was hard to avoid hitting other people's shoulders or legs as we made our way out into the Ohio.

Once we got out of the little port area the music changed.  The current was stronger than it seemed from the land.  It kept on pushing me into the girl that was swimming to the immediate left of me.  It didn't help that I felt like I was swimming in place.  Slowly but surely I tried to swim forward, but it seemed like I was making little to no progress at all.  I felt like a hamster running in place in a wheel.  It was the first time I had ever swam in open water, aside from the ocean in Florida and it was a lot more difficult than I thought it would be.  My arms began to grow sore and my legs burned.  I was having a hard time breathing.  I also swallowed a few mouthfuls of water in my struggle.  At one point I really felt like I wanted to give up.  My goggles were fogged up and I couldn't see a thing aside from the dirty water.  I took a breath on my right side and saw the sun peaking through the clouds.  It was a beautiful site to see.  It was as if God was smiling down on me.  I took that as a sign to keep moving forward.   

I started to feel better after I had made some progress.  What I didn't realize at the time is that the current was sweeping me down river and I needed to be up river.  I should have started at the far right of the group rather than the far left.  Before I knew it I was almost under the Big Four Bridge, but I hadn't went around the last pole.  The volunteers that were in the canoes were yelling at me to tell me I was going the wrong way.  I suddenly felt defeated.  I noticed a blue capped man hanging on a canoe.  I was so tempted to do the same, but I didn't.  I pushed myself with all of my might up stream so I could get around the the last pillar.  It seemed to take an eternity, but I made it.  I was going downstream now.  Unlike what the man at the meeting the prior day had said, swimming downstream was not all bubble gum and flowers.  It didn't help that I had to keep looking up to see where I was going and navigate around a HUGE tree by a construction barge that was in the middle of the river with aid from the volunteers in canoes.

I am the one in the red cap. 
Finally I was to the home stretch.  I felt as if I was swimming at a snails pace, but I could see the buoys that signaled the end of the swim portion.  Since I no longer had to fight the current I swam with every ounce of my strength.  For the first time the entire swim, finishing seemed possible.  To my right there was a guy that came out of no where who was trying to pass me and to my left a girl who was doing the same.  I quickly pulled in front of the girl, but I could not shake the guy.  Suddenly I was able to pull away.  Minutes later I was filled with relief when I hit the squishy bottom of the Ohio.  Because there was still a few inches of water, I swam as far as I could go instead of walking in the clay like dirt.  When I made it to the plat form I wanted to sigh with relief, but I didn't because there was a steep hill I had to run up to enter the transition area.  Everything was a blur as I climbed the hill, part running, part stumbling.  I saw my dad and husband cheering me on from the side lines and my friend, Laurel, who would do the run portion later in the race.
Me, apparently at the lead of the pack.
Coming out of the water
This walk to the transition area seemed like it took forever.
In the transition area I sat on the warm concrete ground and slowly ate a banana.  My legs hurt so bad, I could barely move.  The overwhelming urge to go to the bathroom hit me again.  I knew it was probably outside of triathlon protocol, but I didn't care.  It was never a good idea to ride a bike with a full bladder when you have interstitial cystitis.  I went into the disgusting port a potty and did my thing.  After I slowly put my socks, gloves and shoes on, I adjusted my bike helmet and was off. 

The Transition Area
Not feeling very confident and extremely tired.

As I took off down East Riverside Dr. I was overcome by a rush of emotion.  I had made it through the most difficult part of the race and I had already done this bike route twice.  Out loud I told myself over and over again,"You've got this.  You've got this."  I swallowed back tears, remembering the line Tom Hanks said in "A League of Their Own", "There's no crying in baseball."  Well apparently there was crying in cycling.  There were several times on that 24.9 mile ride where I cried, not because my legs hurt or I was in pain, but because I was in awe that I was actually accomplishing my goal.

The ride was longer and harder than I thought it would be.  Even though I was familiar with it, nothing could have prepared me for biking it after a .93 mile swim.  I felt like I was so slow.  One by one other cyclists passed me and catching them was beyond hope.  I began to feel discouraged, but I pushed away those feelings.  I may have not had the time to train like these cyclists did, but I was out here and I was doing it.

Other than my tired legs, the ride was pretty uneventful.  I was passed at least 60 times and at least 30 times each person that passed me said, "Good job" or "Keep up the good work."  I didn't feel like they were patronizing me, I felt like they were encouraging me.  After a time I felt like I should return the encouragement favor.  The chances were pretty slim that I was going to pass anyone, but people were still passing me.  So, I began telling people who were passing me, "Good job."  Some people looked back with surprise written on their face while others said, "You too."

The Mighty Ohio (Pictures I took the weekend before on my test rides)

A bluff that hung over the river.
Part of the scenic ride towards Uttica
Halfway through the race was the turnaround point.  When I came to the hill I wanted to turn around and crawl in a hole.  It was a pretty steep grade, but it was also VERY long.  It seemed to go on for miles.  I was comforted that I saw the other guys in front of me slowing down considerably.  I was a bit unnerved when I saw a girl who had fallen in the middle of the road on her way back down.  I kept on telling myself that this was the last big hill and then I would get to go back down it on the return trip.  It was a hard climb.  Not as hard as swimming in the Ohio, but just as ridiculous.  At one point towards the end of the climb a guy came up behind me and said, "Come on, you can do it!  You're almost there."  I laughed and said, "They weren't kidding about this hill."  He chuckled in agreement.  But I made it.  I declined the water bottle that one of the volunteers offered and made my way back down.  I remembered to ride my breaks as they suggested at the previous day's meeting so that I didn't end up like the girl on the side of the road.  When I got to the end I was grinning like a fool and feeling sympathetic and sorry for all of the other riders I passed who still had to go up the hill. 

When I got closer to the finish line I started picking up the pace, actually passing two people.  I knew that I didn't have that much further to go and I wanted to finish strong.  I continued to pedal the entire ride even when I was tempted to coast.  When downtown Louisville came into my sight I began to cry again.  The end was so close I could taste it.  I pedaled as fast as my legs would carry me, even passing an old guy on a motorcycle.  I barely made it through the bike check line because I almost fell off my bike and took out a few on lookers as a result.  My wobbly legs walked through the transition area to where my friend Laurel was waiting to take my time chip and do the 6.23 mile run.  She took off my anklet and I gave her a hug.  "I love you," I said.  "You've got this."  And she was off.

I made my way back to the transition area and collected my stuff.  A calm settled over me.  I actually did it.  Yes my limbs felt like they would fall off at any moment and my "quick drying" triathlon outfit was still wet, but I did it.  This was definitely something to write home about. 


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  2. I don't own a bicycle nor do I ever want to swim in the Ohio River but this post makes me want to run out the door right now and do both! I am proud of you!! What am amazing thing you have accomplished!

    1. Thank you and I think you could totally do it with the right training. I think my training could have been much better, but I think anyone with the right practice could do it. It really took me two years to train for the swimming portion (I swam in high school). Biking is amazing because you get to see the beautiful scenery of Louisville and Indiana at a pace to really take it all in. You can't really appreciate it in a car. So go out and buy a bike and if you can't swim take some lessons and sign up for a shorter tri. They do have a sprint at this event :)


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